Online pharmacies have been around for quite some time, providing convenience to patients and filling the gap left by regular drugstores. Many of the regular drugstore chains have also entered this market, providing their customers with the option to purchase drugs online. The problem with these online stores is the lack of governance and abuse that can cause major health concerns.
The government is trying to make these online medication transactions as safe as those at the regular drugstores. Accordingly, five principles had been set for shaping the policy that guides prescription medications sold online:
- Leadership should be taken by private sector.
- Unwarranted curbs on use of Internet / e-commerce to sell medications should be avoided.
- The scope of direct government interference should be as less as possible. The government should be called in for guidance and execution in a manner which is the barest minimum, quite predictable and consistent. It should provide simple legal grounds for carrying out business.
- The Internet is a unique medium for business transactions and this should be incorporated in the government policy for the online prescription medication practices.
- The extent of online businesses should be realized on a worldwide level and the policies should strive to facilitate borderless transactions in coordination with the governments of other nations.
Ideally, government interference should be limited to ensuring that the general public gets drugs of appropriate quality and that the sale of illegal and substandard drugs is completely prohibited. The government expects the private sector drug companies to play a major role in shaping and controlling this sector. Consumer education about the drugs and qualitative grading of online pharmacies along with other such protective measures should be initiated by the pharmaceutical companies to help consumers make an informed choice.
Technological advancements should render these pharmacies to be extremely user friendly over the years and the Government will have to play an active role in monitoring and preventing misuse of this media. To manage a global outlook, the government will have to work towards preparing a standard policy that can be used across state and international barriers. The government will have to strive towards standardizing and implementing regulations with other international governments, so that any unfair practices are weeded out and the patients/customers get the best possible medications.
Benefits of Online Pharmacies
Due to its easy access and evolution over the years, the Internet has become a huge bank of information. Search engines like Google; various forums and social networking websites; medical forums, etc. all provide detailed assistance in locating the required information. Various studies carried out have shown the popularity of searching medical information on the net to be very high. Known as cyberchondriacs, these information seekers browse through the Internet to search for relevant medical information. One such study has found that in 2010, nearly 170 million Americans have used the Internet to research for health reasons. More than 110 million Americans chose the Internet to verify or gather information on various drugs and more than 95 million of them take drastic decisions based on the Internet based information.
Apart from overall convenience, online pharmacies provide other benefits for patients (especially seniors that are 55yrs and above):
- The customer gets easy access to information about various prices being listed for the same drug with different providers and can make an informed choice.
- Increased competition reduces prices.
- It is a big help for patients who are unable to leave their residence and purchase the medicines.
- It also reduces efforts for patients/customers staying at long distances from regular drugstores.
- Due to the fast-paced nature of lifestyle, online pharmacies allow patients to buy drugs at their convenience rather than reaching regular drugstores during their “open” hours. Usually the drugstore’s “open” hours coincide with the customer’s work hours as well, creating unnecessary hassles in purchasing the drugs.
Other additional features could include direct consultation with physicians online, easy to refer medication information, minimal error in wrong notification of medication by the pharmacist, etc.
As in any business, malpractices can seep into online pharmacies as well. Due to its sensitive nature and direct impact on human life, it is very essential that patients are protected and guided to get maximum benefits. Due to its secretive nature, it is easy to manipulate the Internet as the pharmacist may stay at any location in the world and may be thus protected. Especially, the variation in laws of other countries against malpractices may complicate things and provide slightly milder consequences than those in United States. Some medications may be acceptable in the pharmacist’s native country but not be allowed in United States, as well.
The United States government is in constant touch with various international governments in creating a global standard for various medications. Various laws and legislatures have been drafted to help patients make proper choices. Patients are encouraged to maintain the doctor-patient relationship rather than believe claims as mentioned on the various pharmaceutical websites. The FDA has also been strengthened with the powers to take action against such fraudulent practices and has carried out a number of convictions. Rating sites that verify pharmacies and their products have also sprung up to give expert advice on online pharmacy uses. For pharmacies based outside the U.S., FDA is working in tandem with various agencies to monitor and prevent any illegal pharmacies from exploiting U.S. patients.
Thus, the government views online pharmacies to be helpful and necessary but also feels the need that their use should be monitored. The government feels that the benefits are quite prominent, especially to the elderly and differently-abled Americans, but is also aware of the risks involved in letting this sector remain unregulated. Stress is laid on educating the population about the ways to determine how Americans can get the best out of these pharmacies and which ones will give them the maximum benefit.